Low-contrast Photogaphy in Zoner Photo Studio

Many photographers have climbed to the top by breaking the rules of the art. But before you can break the rules, you have to master the rules. In this article, we’ll help you masterfully break the rules on contrast. (And we’ll also take this opportunity to showcase the excellent RAW development toolkit in Zoner Photo Studio 17!)

More and more, members of the world’s photographic community are breaking photography’s tried and true rules to achieve exceptional results. But it’s not as easy as it sounds. To get good results while deliberately breaking the rules, you need experience, and above all you need to have mastered the rules that you’re breaking. One of the “rulebreakers,” the low-contrast look, is very popular and gives striking results, so we’ll be taking a look at it today.

Where Does Low-contrast Look Good?

The low-contrast look demands very soft and diffuse light. Basically the ideal time to shoot the foundation for these pictures is a foggy day. Fog filters light so strongly that you probably can’t find a softer, more diffuse light in all of nature. But merely cloudy, overcast weather works too. Clouds soften and disperse light quite nicely.

A RAW-format photograph. It has very soft light, making it a great foundation for the low-contrast look.
A RAW-format photograph. It has very soft light, making it a great foundation for the low-contrast look.

All Eyes on the Histogram

When you examine the histogram for a photo with this look, you’ll find a significant lack of black. So you need to have the goal of a low-contrast look in mind before you even press the trigger. Consider aiding this goal by using a positive-EV exposure setting during the shot.

This photograph visibly lacks black.
This photograph visibly lacks black.


Most pictures given the low-contrast look also get tinted. They are most often tinted a pale blue, giving them a coolish feeling. If you too want to tint your picture, tread carefully. You can easily overdo it and get an ugly result.


Shoot the source photo in the RAW format. Then develop it in Zoner Photo Studio’s RAW module. This is the ideal route because the RAW format contains much more picture information than JPEG. For more on this, read our article on why you should be shooting to RAW.

  • First fine-tune the exposure.
  • Then reduce the saturation to 60-70%.
  • Move the Lights down by about 20-30.
  • Move the Shadows slider in the opposite direction from the lights—by about 20-30 points.
  • Move the black and white points for fine-tuning.
  • Finish up by adjusting the Contrast slider. (That slider removes contrast in a different way than the Shadows and Lights sliders can remove it.)
  • Don’t forget to add sharpening when you’re done. To underscore and emphasize the whole effect, add vignetting too.

Then develop the photo.

The RAW-module settings used on this photo.
The RAW-module settings used on this photo.
The picture as developed from RAW.
The picture as developed from RAW.

The resulting look as seen in the Editor

It’s very easy to then build upon this in the Editor by using Quick Filters. The best Quick Filter for this look is the one called “Ocean.” Use a heavily diluted version of Ocean for the low-contrast look, however. Reducing opacity to 60% works well for this. Ocean gives a photo a light freezing feel, and the result really does look good.

Adding the quick filter
Adding the quick filter
The final picture, with the Ocean quick filter applied.
The final picture, with the Ocean quick filter applied.

The low-contrast look is very attractive, but it’s not a fit for every type of photograph. You should know how you plan to edit the photo before you even press the trigger. So think about your photos before you take them. That will make your work with them much easier.

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AuthorMajo Elias

I’ve been taking pictures since 2004. When I was starting out, I photographed almost everything. Later my style solidified and I began photographing people almost exclusively. At the moment my main genres are fashion and advertising.

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